The legal term “undue influence” is a complex one, in part because it is so unclearly defined. The American Bar Association (ABA) has quite literally written research analyses of the term such that it remains difficult to define even to this day. The ABA has essentially determined that while a basic legal definition does exist, determining actual undue influence in relation to a court case can be more a matter of judicial interpretation than a literal one.
According to the ABA, many states define undue influence like this: “Undue influence occurs when a fiduciary or confidential relationship exists in which one person substitutes his own will for that of the influenced person’s will.” This definition is mostly relatable to probate law, a practice area which helps determine what happens to a deceased person’s assets when no will or last testament are left behind to make the dissemination of those assets easier.
The ABA also describes undue influence as a concept most often relatable to probate or seen in certain types of cases that involve petitioning for guardianship.
A more simplistic Oxford dictionary definition defines the phrase like this: “Influence by which a person is induced to act otherwise than by their own free will or without adequate attention to the consequences.”
For example, a personal caretaker might unduly influence an elderly person experiencing dementia, amnesia, or Alzheimer’s disease in order to compel the elderly person to alter a will to favor the caretaker. A recent media example of undue influence is notable in the Netflix film I Care A Lot.
Another example of undue influence occurs when a beneficiary is suddenly excluded from a will — say, for instance, the favorite child’s inheritance suddenly vanishes and the will favors the neighbor down the street who routinely borrows a cup of sugar but holds no real relationship to the person whose will is left behind.